CORRECTED-UPDATE 1-Australia's Whitehaven Coal warns on profit, shares slide
(Corrects paragraph 2 to say no sign of market rebound instead of China growth)
* Whitehaven warns profits could suffer as coal market uncertain
* Company sees little sign of a market rebound
* Shares drop as much as 8 pct after trading halt lifted
* Weak coal prices risk driving full-yr EBITDA down to A$50 million, it says
SYDNEY/MELBOURNE, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Whitehaven Coal , under pressure from its main shareholder to give a clear earnings forecast, said its profits could slide if coal prices weaken, sending shares in Australia's top independent coal miner down as much as 8 percent.
Whitehaven, which reported a 42 percent rise in quarterly coal production to 1.9 million tonnes from a year ago, also said on Friday it did not see any signs of a market rebound.
Following the warning, Whitehaven shares hit an intraday low of A$2.95 and were trading down 4.5 percent at $3.05 by 0155 GMT. The shares, which have been as high as A$5.62 this year, had resuming trade on Friday following a voluntary trading halt.
Mining magnate Nathan Tinkler, who owns a 19.4 percent stake in the company, was seeking confirmation that the company's outlook for earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation was close to the market consensus of A$188 million.
The company said there was little difference between its projections and the average of analysts' forecasts for sale volumes and average cash cost per sales tonne, but said there was no certainty that could be achieved.
"It is clearly difficult to have a high degree of confidence in predicting future coal prices for FY 2013, particularly at this stage of the financial year," the company said in its quarterly production report.
"There is currently little sign of a market rebound, although forward markets are showing improving prices and there is the prospect of renewed demand growth from China in early 2013."
The company has been distracted over the past two years, first by a failed effort to find a suitor and more recently when Tinkler pitched a $5.5 billion bid to take the company private only to scrap the deal due to a funding shortfall.
PRESSURE ON THE BOARD
Tinkler this week threatened in a letter sent to Whitehaven to use his shareholding power to vote out the coal firm's chairman and four other directors if the board failed to give a detailed earnings and project update ahead of the company's annual meeting on Nov. 1.
Tinkler, who is now living in Singapore, could not immediately be reached for comment on Whitehaven's announcement.
Tinkler, 36, a former coal mining electrician built up a mining, sports club and horse racing empire after turning a A$1 million bet on a coal deposit into a billion dollar fortune.
Tinkler became Whitehaven's biggest shareholder earlier this year when the company took over two companies he controlled, Aston Resources and Boardwalk Resources, in a $2.5 billion deal.
But he has borrowed heavily against his 19.4 percent Whitehaven stake, sparking speculation he may have to sell the stake to pay his creditors.
Analysts' forecasts for Whitehaven's earnings before interest, tax, amortisation and depreciation (EBITDA), a gauge of operational profitability, ranged mainly between A$152 million and A$246 million versus A$137 million in the year to June 2012, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Whitehaven warned if coal prices stay as weak as they are now, EBITDA for the year to June 2013 could slide to A$50 million.
Whitehaven on Thursday said it plans to suspend operations at its Sunnyside mine indefinitely due to the downturn in coal prices, joining some of Australia's biggest coal miners who have made production cuts and delayed projects.
It said it expected to sell about 7.2 million tonnes of coal this year, roughly in line with its forecast in August and doubling its production from last year. However, that depends on its successfully ramping up production at its Narrabri mine.
Whitehaven Chairman Mark Vaile confirmed on Friday the company is searching for a new managing director to replace Tony Haggarty, who has said he wants to quit.
Vaile declined to comment on Tinkler's letter earlier this week, but said he and other directors had "very, very positive" conversations with the company's other shareholders about their support for the board.
Spot prices for all metallurgical coals -- from premium hard coking coal to semi-soft, pulverised PCI and anthracite -- have slumped by over 25 percent since July.
Thermal coal spot prices have fallen 30 percent since the start of 2012. (Reporting by Sonali Paul and James Regan; Editing by Ed Davies)
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